In the wake of the release of the critically acclaimed psychological horror film It Comes at Night starring Joel Edgerton, it seems fitting to look back on the ‘slow burn’ sub-genre of horror that occasionally gets overlooked or underappreciated.
The slow burn horror sub-genre approach sees a particular film gradually build tension throughout, until an explosive ending is revealed, letting loose a cascade of violence and terror.
Every so often one film will stand out; most of the time dividing audiences down the middle. A perfect example would be The Blair Witch Project (1999) released almost 20 years ago, which used the internet to sell the film as real found footage, and mostly succeeded in doing so, well into its theatrical run. Upon repeat viewings, it’s a daring but somewhat bold piece of filmmaking to have nothing really happen bar, little snippets of what kind of terror awaits the characters up until the final reel. Most horror buffs or avid filmgoers nowadays label it as boring, and whilst it does have its flaws (the repeat viewings also reveal some bad improvisation from the actors), it’s also a great example of how a slow burn horror film should be made.
Slow burn horror/thrillers are scattered throughout the era of cinema, some which are considered classics but don’t have the recognition of tension building as much as they should. In 1979, Ridley Scott gave us the sci-fi classic Alien, spawning a franchise which is still alive today. It isn’t until almost half way through the film where we catch a glimpse of the film’s alien, dubbed the Xenomorph. This gets us to invest in the characters and actually care about if they live or die. This is a device which allows any good slow burn film to work, so that we get the shock ending we’ve been waiting for.
A truly great tension-building horror film takes the less-is-more approach, allowing us to use our own imagination to drum up our deepest fears, and reveal what is really waiting for us in the dark.
Check out the gallery below to see 10 recent (and not so recent) horror movies that took the slow burn approach and won, in order of release date, and leave a comment to let us know your favourite slow burning horror film.